The Drops Blog

12 Language Learning Tips from a Memory Champion

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Published:
Apr 8, 2021

One of the challenges many learners face when studying a new language is remembering what they learn. 

With a new language, there’s a lot you need to remember! New words, sentence structure, grammar rules… how can you remember it all?

We teamed up with 4x memory champion Nelson Dellis to share his tips for learning a new language and making it stick. 

Two years ago he learned Dutch with Drops. Here was the result:


This year, he’s back, refreshing his Dutch and reinforcing everything he’s learned. 

Want to learn a language like a memory champion? Here are 12 tips from Nelson Dellis: 

Memory champion Nelson Dellis

#1 Get to Know the 3 Foundational C’s of Effective Language Learning

In case you missed it, Nelson shared a bit about the 3 C’s and his approach to focusing on them in his first video update.

But as a quick recap, the 3 C’s are:

  • Core Vocab
  • Consistency
  • Confidence

How do you build each of these?

How to Build Core Vocabulary

With Drops, you have more than 100 topics to choose from, so where do you start?

Think about the things that are most important in your life. What kind of work do you do? What are your hobbies? What sort of conversations do you typically find yourself having? 

For example, our Resident Polyglot Shannon Kennedy likes video games, is a musician, spends a lot of time online, loves food and coffee, has kids, and enjoys reading fantasy. 

So some of the topics she’d choose to build her core vocabulary would be: Computers, More Computers, .com, Baby, More Baby, Music, Restaurant, Snacks, Fun, Toys, Magic and Fantasy, and of course, everything in the Foundations category. 

Figure out what these topics would be for you and start there!

As Nelson says, the quickest way to get a good footing in a language is by building a big vocabulary.

How to Create Consistency

Studying every day helps you not only keep what you’ve learned fresh, but it helps you make progress faster. With Drops, you can get started building a language habit with just 5 minutes of playing a day. 

And that 5 minutes can build into a bigger habit.

How to Build Confidence

When you combine a strong foundation with core vocabulary and a consistent routine, you get confidence as a result. And the more vocab you know and the more consistency you have, the more confidence you’ll build. It’s a snowball effect.

So stick to your daily practice and keep your streak going!

Learn a new language with Drops

#2 Learn Phrases that You Typically Use

Nelson suggests making a list of commonly used phrases you use in your native language. From there, translate them (or have someone translate them for you) into the language that you’re learning. Once you have the translations, memorize them. Make them a part of your speaking arsenal.

If you’re wondering where to start, the Travel Talk category in Drops includes several essential phrases and questions.

Tips from a memory champion

#3 Find a Language Buddy 

Learning with another person at the same level as you with similar goals can help carry you. They also can hold you accountable.

So how can you do this? 

It’s easy! 

Search Instagram for #90dayswithdrops, find someone learning your language in the posts, and send them a message! 

Not sure what to say?

You can try something like:

“Hello! My name is ____. I saw you are also studying [language] with Drops as a part of 90 Days with Drops. I was wondering if you’d like to connect, share learning tips, and/or be accountability buddies for the duration of the challenge! Let me know what you think!”

#4 Add a Little Fun into Your Language Routine

Here are a few ways Nelson suggests adding a little fun into your learning:

1. Immerse yourself in the language. 

With all the streaming services we have, it’s easy to find a movie in your target language. If needed, you can use English subtitles as you watch!

2. Find language learning podcasts. 

There are so many; and at varying levels, too. Many podcasts are specifically designed for beginners learning a language. Some are just for learning vocab, but others are full-on conversations.

3. Find your “why”. 

Nelson says he can’t stress this enough. 

If you don’t have an honest, motivating reason to learn the language you want to learn, it’s going to be very difficult to maintain motivation. And half the battle with learning a language is staying motivated for the long run.

#5 Rebuild Your Momentum

Find yourself losing steam?

Here are a few ways to help regain your momentum according to Nelson:

1. Losing steam and drifting back into old habits happens to everyone. 

What you do about it is what can separate you from the pack. When you started the challenge, you felt great. Now you need some motivation to keep you going. Come on!

2. Fight resistance.

The constant daily struggle to keep working on your goals is REAL and it's called "resistance." Try every single day to fight "resistance" and you will take steps towards your goals.

3. Believe in yourself.

The biggest way to improve your memory: BELIEVE YOU HAVE A GOOD MEMORY. It starts there.

Learn a new language with Drops

#6 Start Speaking as Soon as Possible

Want to use your new language in conversations?

Start speaking as soon as possible. It’s the most difficult and uncomfortable part of language learning but will be the one thing that will advance your learning quicker than anything else.

#7 Go Analog with Your Language Learning

Tired of digital learning? 

Try analog language learning to change things up. 

Specifically for learning vocabulary, you can use something called a Leitner Box––which is essentially a manual version of Drops. It’s a lot of work but the results are powerful because you are writing and reviewing everything by hand.

#8 Focus on Pronunciation

According to Nelson, you should work on correct pronunciation early on. Why? Because it’ll help make learning vocabulary more memorable. It’s all a part of playing with your words. There are lots of ways to play with pronunciation to make it stick.

#9 Personalize Your Language Learning Experience

When making your vocabulary frequency list (the first collection of words you want to memorize based on how frequently they are used in your target language), you want to make those lists meaning full to you certain words will carry more weight for you. 

Frequency lists are easy enough to find online, but Nelson recommends taking those and making them your own by adding words that are important to you, or words that have to do with your interests.

You can also do this in Drops by choosing to “ignore” or hide words you don’t think are personally relevant. That way, you can focus your study time on the words that matter most to you, building your own personal word frequency list.

Language learning tips from a memory champion

#10 Journal in Your Language

Nelson suggests journaling in your language, no matter how bad you may think your entries are. 

Nelson personally loves this tip. It’s hard, but it’s helpful as it can give you practice trying to express yourself in your target language. 

When starting out, don’t stress too much about correct spelling and grammar. Just write down your thoughts. It will also be motivating to look back on as you make progress over time.

#11 Translate Tim Ferriss’s 13 Sentences into the Language You’re Learning

Tim Ferriss has come up with 13 sentences you can use to deconstruct the grammar of the language you’re using. 

You can kickstart your ability in your new language by translating Tim Ferriss’s sentences into your target language. 

These 13 sentences, if learned, would give you a very strong understanding of all the ins and outs of your target language’s grammar. 

#12 Start Now

The best time to study for a language is….NOW. Whatever excuse you’re giving yourself to not do it now, get rid of that thought and go review/study/learn NOW!

Learn more about Nelson Dellis.

Learn Words and Phrases in a New Language

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